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The Pallanguzhi game is known as ancient Tamil game that entertains and helps to sharpen one’s arithmetic. But Tho. Paramasivan, a renowned Tamil folklorist, cultural researcher and professor, all rolled into one, has ferreted out hidden social and cultural messages woven into the game.

Pallanguzhi is an expression of cultural justification for the emergence of private property and the social sense of private property, he says. He adds that once people accept that private property is inevitable and socially acceptable, its growth then proceeded unimpeded.

Generally pallanguzhi is played by women. It is viewed as an innocuous game confined to the world of women who attain puberty and expectant mothers.

It was Devaneya Pavanar, a Tamil etymological scholar, who first wrote about the game in his book ‘Tamil Nadu Games.’ Later, Professor Thayammal Aravanan came up with a detailed book on the subject, ‘Pallankuzhi (Dravidian-African Comparision).’  This book has shown that the Tamil game is a modified form of what aborigines in various parts of the world played.

  How the pallanguzhi game is played is described in an article in Tho. Paramasivan’s book ‘Unknown Tamilagam.’

Two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat, said the Tamil pallanghuzhi game was played as ‘alikuli manae’ in Karnataka and as ‘vaaman kundlu’ in Andhra Pradesh.  The game of filling a certain number of cups or pits in a small rectangular board with pearls was in vogue not only in South India but also in South Asia as also the world over, he added.

How the game is played is described in an article in Tho. Paramasivan’s book ‘Unknown Tamilagam’ :

– The game is played only by two players, each controlling seven cups (pits) on a rectangular board.

– As each cup is filled up with five shells or coins (sometimes tamarind seeds are used), the pallanguzhi game gets set on an equitable note with the two players equally balanced.

– However, the initial equilibrium is upset when the first player starts scooping out the five coins from anyone of cups in his control and filling each of the subsequent cups with one coin.

– As  the player finds the five coins exhausted in a round after filling each cup, he again takes up coins from the cup (never mind it belongs to the rival player) next to the one where he halts; then he continues filling up the cups with whatever coins he happens to cull out of any one of the cups. At one point, he finds his coins exhausted and himself in an empty cup. Then he can touch the empty cup with his fingers and hop on to the next cup from where he takes all shells, available either in a large number or in fewer numbers and stashes them away. He owns them, symbolic of his edge over his rival. Sometimes, if Madame Luck doesn’t smile on him, he will find two subsequent cups empty at the end of a round; that means he becomes poor. He gets no coin at all – a loser in the innings. Then it’s the rival’s turn to play.

– Sometimes, a player gets a windfall in the form of a collection of four coins in one go. As he moves on round after round, filling each cup with each coin, he may find a particular cup filled with four coins. That abundance, as it were, is what he earns. He can withdraw the quartet and add it to his prize collection of coins. The prize is called ‘pasu’ (cow).

– The two-row-and-seven-column configuration of the pallanguzhi game, set before the start of the game, is hardly maintained. That is to say, the starting point of all 14 cups each having five shells keeps changing in several rounds; some cups may be empty; some have fewer shells; some overflowing with more.

– The player, who has earned less than 15 coins and is on a losing spree, should continue playing, leaving three cups in his terrain empty (‘thakkam’ in Tamil) so the two players put no coin in them. It means that the loser has lost ownership of the cups.

– At the start of next innings, if the loser does not have coins enough to fill all his own seven cups each with five coins, he can distribute the coins available with him to his cups alternately.  Sometime, it may turn out that he has just got four coins enough to fill only four of his cups, apportioning each cup just one coin. In that event, the game the loser plays is called ‘kanji kaayijuthal’ (boiling gruel). This Tamil phrase is a metonym for poverty.

– Curtain is rung down on the pallanguzhi game when the loser is eventually left with no coin at all.

The social equilibrium of an old socialist society gets upended through the game in such a way that one’s wealth goes to another quite easily without violence. The loser’s down-at-heel status is made eternal. Economical inequalities – the rich getting richer and the poor poorer – are created artificially in the wake of emergence of private property rights at the tomb of an ancient equalitarian society. In a small landscape, lots of sand are culled out of deep pits to enrich plateaus or uplands. There’s no question of violence employed in usurping or trespassing on others’ wealth. Rather the weak and the poor are exploited; their sweat, blood and tears are invested without their knowledge into the making of the rich and the affluent.

The social equilibrium of an old socialist society gets upended through the game in such a way that one’s wealth goes to another quite easily without violence.

The human mind has over centuries been indoctrinated with ideologies that hold aloft a superpower hovering over the universe; man has been taught seamlessly that his poverty or affluence is not determined by the social and economic factors, but by that ‘superpower’ or ‘oversoul.’ It was thus that the human mind had got used to the domineering philosophy of private property interspersed with spiritual fatalism.

In this respect, the role of game or gambling and its instruments is no less immense in manipulating the human mind into believing the validity and value of private property.

It is through luring offers of fabulous prizes that the global commercial enterprises have converted sportsmen and track athletes into gamblers. The lofty motto of Olympics that games are meant not for winning but for playing has been destroyed thus, says Tho. Paramasivan.


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